How to Climb the Wall

When learning a new skill, the moment when your will drops below your skill is called the wall. To succeed, you need to climb the wall.

Climb the wall

Every time when you start something new there is a moment when your willpower drops below your perceived skill level. This moment is called the wall. It looks daunting but eventually, if you keep practicing both, your skill level and your willpower start going up. You have started to climb the wall. If you persist, you will get to the peak and then … you will see another mountain to climb.

In this article, I will give you my tips for the hardest part in acquiring any new skill – the climb. If you zoom our, you will notice the same principle at a higher level – your career, your relationship, your life. Hopefully, you will also find ways to apply what you have learned to other areas, not only when learning a skill.

Time to read

Time to read: 10 minutes (based on 150 words per minute).

What is the wall?

In the beginning of almost every new and unknown endeavor which you have set for yourself as a goal, your willpower is high and your skill is low. You usually start timidly, try a few things, succeed here and there, and your skill starts rising. You try other things, you fail, and your will plummets. You start asking yourself: “Am I good enough for this?”; “Will I ever learn?”; “Do I really need this?” Hopefully, you have somebody around you to encourage you, to give you some pointers and to help you climb the wall.

This article is about being there for yourself when you cannot rely on anyone else. I am listing the tips and tricks to keep yourself on the right track after you’ve committed to the goal.

Why is it hard to climb the wall?

But why is this not natural for us? Books, movies, even songs are full of examples of people persevering and getting to the destination. We know that it only takes 10.000 hours of practice to obtain mastery (well, depends on the essence of those hours, but still the example is valid). We know that being overweight is bad for us, but we still yo-yo back after the first few hurdles. Even when learning a new skill will bring visible benefits to our lives, we are prone to give up after a few bed attempts. That’s because we are in our essence simple beings who are built to run away from adversity, especially physical adversity. But in today’s world, we rarely face physical adversity, so this habit it working against us.

The benefit of this article is a set of tools to help you push through and climb the wall. If you follow any (hopefully most) of them, you will be able to excel and make the most of the experience.

Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing

John C. Maxwell

Personal story

I am a creature of habit as most of my colleagues describe me. I have an elaborated set of rituals that guides most of my days (e.g., My Updated Morning Routine, Frustration-free Morning Routine, Daily Design – A Manual for the Special Days). In order to grow and avoid stagnation, I need to evaluate my habits every few months. This usually results in decisions to adopt new habits or take new challenges. At any point of time, I have a goal to either climb the wall, hit the wall, or looking for a wall. My recent challenges are journeys into people management (details here – People Management 101), running (Gamify Your Running), cooking (Cooking is the New Meditation).

How can you climb the wall?

Below are the several steps that I have distilled for myself from my career in wall climbing.

Step 1: Pick your walls

Just like you need to pick your battles, you need to pick the walls you’d like to climb. Make sure that you want to climb the wall and make sure that you are climbing the right wall. Before embarking on a journey of adopting a new habit or a new skill, talk to people who already have the skill. You can ask them a series of questions:

  • Was this the skill that you set to acquire?
  • Did it provide the benefits you expected?
  • If you had a second chance, would you do anything differently?
  • What is the one book you wish you’d read before you started?
  • Who is the one person you wish you’d asked?

Step 2: Stay foolish

Don’t overdo the research in step 1 though. Ideally, before you climb the wall, you need to gather supporting material and motivation to help you when you hit the wall. But you don’t want to empower the voice in your head to persuade you to give up. You want to enter the challenge with your willpower high, even though your skill level is low.

Step 3: Anticipate the process

Self-reflect after each of your experiences learning a new skill and get to know yourself. Learn to spot signs of your mood when hitting the wall. Find out what works to motivate you and what doesn’t. Some approaches will work most of the time, others will only work for specific instances.

Step 4: Organize

Create a document which will serve as your repository for information, links, tips, and successes. It can be anything – a wiki, a Word doc, a simple note, a physical notepad. This about your purpose and the desired outcome and write them down. It is OK, if these keep evolving and you keep changing them. Keep this artifact handy, in case you have novel ideas or anything else worth writing down.

Step 5: Gather tools

Problems which nobody has ever faced are extremely rare. You will find ample material in books, podcasts, magazines, websites, and other sources of information, which will help you when you climb the wall. Tim Ferris’s book – Tools of Titans (link to Goodreads) is a great source of the tools which successful professionals use in a variety of situations. Super Thinking (link to Goodreads) is another really helpful book, which gives you hundreds of mental models to apply to your decision making. I am currently working on the pitch for my second book (working title Tools for Goliaths), which will provide a set of tools to help you climb the wall in a corporate setting. Gather those tools so that you can think about them when you need them.

Step 6: Get feedback

As you are actually practicing the skill and gaining confidence, think about setting up feedback loops to accelerate your learning process. The shorter the feedback loop the faster the progress. Think about people who already possess the skill you are trying to teach yourself and ask them for advice. Create experiments which can fail fast so that you can learn from them.

Step 7: Visualize progress

Hopefully, you have been following my articles and you have read my book and you know that I believe in the power of the progress bar. Even a small increment of 1% every day leads to 37 times better results (compound interest is your friend). Regardless of the skill you are learning, find a way to visualize your progress and look at it daily. I agree that this is not always possible, but if you can do it – do it.

Step 8: Stay humble

With enough help, tools, and persistence, you will surmount the peak. The view from the top will hopefully humble you, because you will see a lot of other walls to climb in front of you. Stay humble, don’t brag about your achievements. Many people have been where you are at the moment and have either descended or kept going up.

Step 9: Look down

While staying humble, look down and pat yourself on the back. There are so many people in the valley, who have not yet started their journey. I remember when I started running semi-seriously and when I was running 9 minutes per kilometer to a total of 45 minutes per 5k. Staying humble I saw that I am worse than 99% of the people who are actively running – they were faster, had better endurance, their technique was better. But then I looked down and I saw that I am better than 80% of the people, because at least I am running.

Step 10: Pay forward

Remember to pay it forward. Summarize your experience in a blog post, an article, even a book. Create a playbook and share it with anything interested. Teach somebody else to do what you’ve just learned, spread the word. But more importantly, teach one person about this model and help them prepare better for the next time they will need to climb the wall.

One Action

My One Action for you is easy. Sit down and create a list of the walls that you are climbing at the moment. Pick one, preferably in the early stages, and apply the mechanism from this article to your learning process.

Ten steps to climb the wall.
Ten steps to climb the wall.

Summary

All of us need to climb the wall when we learn something new. Following a simple framework will help you better prepare for and execute the climb.

Next steps

What are the next steps?

If you have liked my article, please proceed to my contact page, where you can view various ways to contact me.

Thanks!

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